englishman abroad, language

I can’t speak French for merde

Well, I’m back.

I hadn’t been to France for any meaningful length of time for sixteen years and cannot speak French for crotte any longer. In short, my French is god awful and going to Bordeaux was a useful experience.

Useful? Yes, useful. Going to another country and having absolutely no idea how to function beyond the purchase of a croissant and a pointless school-French conversation about where you live and what you did for your work experience last summer is a humbling experience.

You see, I have been living in Germany non-stop for a few years now, and I’m just about able to get by despite making mistakes in every sentence. Clearly, I have been getting too big for my boots. Clearly, the powers that be looked upon my level of German competence and remarked

Did you hear that? They’re understanding what he says! Despite him repeatedly putting the accusative in the nominative and the dative in the genitive and the verb as a noun and saying “sie” instead of “ihnen”, and then “du” and then “ihnen” again.

He’s getting overconfident; I’ll send him a plague of frogs.

It’s quite an important experience, to go somewhere and be absolutely powerless. It’s especially important for adults to do this, to remember what it’s like for children. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve integrated somewhat into Germany and what an odd feeling this is. In so doing, I’ve moved past much of the everyday alienation and inaptitude that I had suffered when I first came to Germany, without any German, years back. It’s been good to have a fleeting, linguistically impotent trip to France to broaden my perspective and remember not to take things for granted.

As for the meeting itself, it was informative, well received and, mercifully, in English.

englishman abroad, parenting, the German way

Einschulung

Saturday was the day of my daughter Aurelia’s Einschulung. Einschulung is sometimes translated as ‘first day of school’, and I suppose that, technically, it often is. It’s not really that though. As I said, it happened on a Saturday and therefore isn’t a ‘proper’ school day. Besides, Aurelia has already had ‘trial hours’ (Schnupperstunden) at this school – she’s been there before. Another translation of this word is ‘enrolment’, which is also totally off. Aurelia was already on the ‘rolls’ of this school; she has been registered to attend it since about the time we moved to this town. What the Einschulung actually is, is a sort of ‘into-school’ rite of passage. Here’s what happened…

On that Saturday morning, after breakfast, Aurelia got her first proper look at the Schultüte which had been hidden away for weeks. A Schultüte is part of this German rite of passage. It resembles a brightly coloured and garishly decorated giant ice-cream cone; it’s also a bit like a Christmas stocking in that it is packed with goodies and not to be opened before the appointed time.

That appointed time is always after school, so off to school we all went: Oma, Opa, Mama and Papa. I carried Aurelia’s Schultüte, and Aurelia carried her gigantic, red and purple school bag. All German kids seem to have dementedly oversized school bags, called Schulranzen, which make them look less like first-year schoolkids than they do NASA astronauts. Off we went to school, bobbing along like an Ice-cream-themed Pride Parade for Questionable Cosmonauts.

On arrival at the school, it became apparent that I was the only one who had given this School-based theme-parkery a second thought: every single other child had a brightly coloured Schultüte and Schulranzen as well. The new space cadets first-years sat right at the front of the assembly hall and then it all kicked off. The headteacher introduced all the teachers, each year of the school performed a play or song or dance to welcome the new children, culminating with them being called onto the stage to stand with their respective mentor child and be taken off to their first, half-hour “class”. No parents were allowed of course, but I suspect that it was a little induction and introduction from their teacher. Back at home, Aurelia got to open her Schultüte at last: sweets, school stuff and her first ever alarm clock (pink, of course).

Tomorrow I’ll take her to her first ‘real’ full day of school; 8 am to 1 pm. I’m probably looking forward to it just as much as she is.

englishman abroad, history

DNA Results

In my vainer and more self-important moments, I like to imagine that people read this blog. More than that, I pretend that they notice if I don’t post for a while, as I have not done for about two months now. “What’s that mad Englishman who got stuck in Europe up to?” they might wonder. “Did he ever go to Lush again? Does he still have that Dad-belly?” they’ll muse.

Well, yes, The Dad-belly is still with me. I never did go to Lush again (yet) as I’ve moved out of Oldenburg and into a much smaller town. The house is taking up plenty of my time, which is why this blog has been neglected for so long. I also got my DNA results.

To recap, I recently applied for a British passport for my daughter, and the whole process got me interested in my genealogy just a little bit. I remember being at school and my mate Robert teasing me that I must be Greek because I had skin a little darker than his, he also used to joke that my nose must be fake because it was absolutely ginormous. A Corporal once told me I had hair like a boar. I thought about these and similar comments over the years as I waited for the DNA results to come back. Could I be Greek? Could I be part Jewish, as someone else suggested? Could I be part German, in some mad twist of fate? Was I distantly Irish, as my mother’s own family-tree research had suggested?

The answer was no, on most counts.

According to MyHeritage DNA, I am:

  • 7.4% Iberian (Spain/Portugal)
  • 22.3% English
  • 24.5% Irish, Scottish, Welsh
  • 45.8% Scandinavian (Sweden, Norway, Denmark)

Now I know you have to take these things with a pinch of salt, but I’m reasonably confident on the veracity of most of it.  Essentially, If it says I’m more than 20% something then there’s a fair chance there’s at least some something in me. The percentages don’t matter too much. Instead, the descriptors are the interesting point. And Iberian? Me?

No, de ninguna manera.

englishman abroad, history

DNA Test

Genealogy had never really interested me until recently. My mother has traced some of her side of the family into Wales, Devon and Ireland and my father-in-law has a proudly displayed family tree in the hallway. Still, he’s a farmer and there’s a palpable sense of history on the family farm, which has been passed down for generations. But what about me?

Like many people born in England, I just presumed that I was as English as the Anglo-Saxons and didn’t think any more about it. True, England was invaded thereafter by Vikings, Normans, Irish, Scots and several others, and the Anglo-Saxons were Germanic anyway (and preceded by the Romans) but whatever. I was English in England and that was that.

Last year I went through a lot of rigmarole in getting my daughter, Aurelia, a British passport in Brexit’s wake. I had to dive a couple of generations back to facilitate this, and call up the General Register Office and get all manner of old birth certificates. Including that of my Grandfather Steve.

It turns out that Grandad Steve, who I’ve never spoken to and has lived elsewhere as far as I can remember, wasn’t really called Steve. He had an absolutely nutty name that I won’t put on here. Just really bonkers and quite distinctive. Not typically “English”.

So I’ve decided to do some digging and see what comes up, so I’ve ordered one of those ‘test your DNA’ kits that so many genealogy sites are offering.  I’ve done some research and I know you have to take these things with a pinch of salt, there’s surely a margin of error etc. etc. Nonetheless, I’m curious as to what such a test might say.

It’s sitting on my dining room table right now and I’m going to send it off this week; there isn’t really an answer that I’m particularly hoping for or dreading.

englishman abroad, Teaching English

… and then three come along at once

I’m giving up some of my work to make time for more work. The freelance Business English side of my work has been rather disappointing recently. Specifically, there was this one big firm that just didn’t have any lessons for months and months. “don’t worry!” they said, “we’ll be back next week!”

Well, they said that for six months and that left a big hole in my plans and finances. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to stop all of my other freelancing gigs from doing the same thing…

 … so to hell with it! I’m minimising my freelance work and prioritising another more predictable and more lucrative project now. I’m currently doing twice as much work for the time being, handing off my old clients to new people and segueing into my new project. I’m very busy!

There’s also plenty of work to be done in my work as a lecturer: one of my two university courses is presenting coursework and writing essays, the other one is about to have exams which I am writing. I’m very busy!

There’s also a house we’re looking at and a couple of top-secret projects I can’t write about yet. Unfortunately, all of this busyness has kept me away from my two pet projects, this blog and Brexpats, for a while.

It’s just like buses: you wait six months for one and then three turn up at once!